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What are Crystals

Crystals are all around us every day. Most of the time, we don't even realize all the crystals we see every day. But what are they and how do they form?

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What are Crystals

Just what are crystals anyway? A crystal is an organized grouping of atoms, or molecules. Each crystal has different properties and shapes. For example, sugar crystals are oblong and slanted at the ends; salt crystals are cubic. Some elements can make more that one crystalline form. Carbon, as graphite, will conduct electricity, act as a lubricant between moving parts, be used as a writing tool (a pencil) and strengthen of steel. As diamond, carbon is used as an industrial cutting tool and as a gemstone in jewelry.

How Crystals Form

In the diagrams below, the Sodium (Na) and Clorine (Cl) atoms both share a pair of electrons in an ionic bond. While in solution, the Na and Cl are separated by water molecules (H20). As the water evaporates from the solution, the Na and Cl atoms begin to bond together, first as single molecules and then the molecules bond together, forming crystals. Every molecule will form the same shape crystal each time it forms. The crystal shape for salt is a cube like a six-sided die.

table salt molecule Salt molecule - the Na atom and the Cl connect to each other with an Ionic bond - the sharing of an electron.
water molecule

Water molecule - two Hydrogen (H) atoms ionically bonded to an Oxygen (O) atom.

salt water solution salt crystal

Crystals in Use Today

Crystals can be used in many ways. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds have been the showiest use of crystals for thousands of years. They were highly valued due to their beauty and relative small amounts that exist in nature. In recent years chemists have been working on methods of creating some of these crystals in the laboratory with a lot of success.

Vibrating Crystals

Each different crystal vibrates at a specific frequency when an electric current is passed through it. The original radios were created using vibrating crystals to create the frequency to transmit signals. As radio technology improved, radio transmitters had several different crystals to allow transmission on different frequencies. Modern radios have large number of different frequencies used by radio stations.

Vibrating crystals can be used for time keeping. A quartz clock uses the vibration of a quartz crystal to measure time. When the crystal has an electric current passed through it, the crystal will vibrate at 60 hertz (60 times per second).

Science Experiments

Try these experiments in growing crystals using sugar or salt.

More information

Find out more about How Atoms Bond Together.


Crystal Growing Geodes (Special Deal)

Crystal Growing Geodes (Special Deal)

Grow three beautiful crystals. Safe and easy to do! Dissolve crystal chemicals in water, watch your crystals grow!

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